Showing posts with label always there. Show all posts
Showing posts with label always there. Show all posts

Friday, September 25, 2015

Guest Post: Always There

Part 3 in the 'Always There' series of posts comes from TenInchWheels who as well as being a good writer is a magnificent photographer, take a gander at his blog sometime, even though he hasn't posted in a while, the pictures are great. Anyway....

For more than two decades I’ve been a Londoner. And for most of that time, the capital has largely been a dismal place for the lover of good beer.

I grew up in Keighley, and anyone who’s read my blog will know that I’m an unashamed Taylor’s fanboy. Maybe I’m biased about our local heroes, but I really don’t care. I earned my beergeek chops on sparkled, cellar-cool Landlord, drunk from the fountainhead, The Boltmakers Arms. From the immaculate old coaching inn to the shabby lock-in in the shadow of a derelict mill, a good pint in almost any pub could be taken for granted, and still can be. Until I left home for art college, I didn’t even know it was possible to get a bad pint.

In 1992 I moved to London. London! The greatest city on earth! Surely, in this throbbing metropolis of impossible-to-please Cockneys a good pint was a dead cert. Well, no. The pubs were good, but the beer was almost universally bad. For the first few years I persevered. Always ordering from the handpump, and I was nearly always disappointed. It was a matter of pride to find that elusive, decent (or consistently decent) pint. Soho, Camden, Shoreditch, Brixton, Holloway, Holborn, Highgate, Hackney, Bethnal Green. Flat, flabby, skunky, sour, murky, eggy. I’ve run the gamut of pints that I’ve had to return to a stink-eyed barman, swatting off the inevitable ‘it’s meant to be like that’ comments. Too many ‘nearly’ pints winced down. Too many unfinished nonics of flat, soupy brown boredom left on sticky tables. One famous day I took my dad to a pub, where - on asking what real ales were ‘on’ - he was told that the bank of six handpumps was just for decoration. So I gave up. For years - now it can be told - I drank Kronenbourg, Newcastle Brown or (heaven help me) Strongbow. But one thing kept me going through those terrible years. Bottles of Timothy Taylor’s Landlord.

On trips home I’d bring bottles back down on the train with me, my rucksack clinking like a milk float. Rare sightings in supermarkets were moments of rejoicing. Visitors would leave them in the cupboard, where I’d find them behind the cornflakes with a moist, homesick eye. Crack off the cap, wait a second, pour. The head settles. First sip and the tingling hit as your palate wakes with that characteristic smack of grapefruit and marmalade which drifts into an astounding lip-smacking, citrus-bitter finish. Full-bodied. Satisfying. As comfortable as my old Redwings, as cosy as a cashmere scarf in a Pennine February. You don’t want cosy? I do. It’s the taste of permanence, rootedness, and home.

Landlord’s a legend, and nowadays it’s in every London pub worthy of a visit. I’ve even seen it sold in a bowling alley. Taylor’s have brewed Landlord since 1952, and it’s always been a favourite among beer fans. But it was a rare sight on handpump in the capital until 2003. That was when Madonna lit Taylors’ blue touchpaper by claiming in an interview with Jonathan Ross that she enjoyed a pint of of their most famous brew at Soho’s Dog And Duck. Did anyone really believe her? It didn’t matter. Suddenly, you started to see it all over the place. And in London it was terrible whenever I tried it. And in 2015 it usually still is. So Landlord is still my go-to bottle, and probably always will be.

And now London is a city with more breweries than I can count, and a beer choice that’s impossible to comprehend. I’m sat typing this with a choice of at least twelve places to get a good, well-kept local beer within a five or ten minute bike ride. I have the pick of the best brews in London on sale at my local bottle shop, the Wanstead Tap. When out and about I no longer have to carry a mental map of a half-dozen ‘reliable’ pubs. A revolution has happened - but there’s still work to do before this is truly a great ‘beer city’. Now you can now get Landlord in almost any supermarket, but the contents of my rucksack on trips back from home still ring and tinkle as the the train clatters south to Kings Cross. Although nowadays it doesn’t matter too much if a couple of those bottles don’t survive the journey.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Guest Post: Going Steady with Golden Beers

Part 2 of the 'Always There' guest post mini-series comes from those fine folks Boak and Bailey, and with that minimalist introduction (seriously if you aren't already reading their blog you should be) out of the way, I hand you over to them.....

Al wanted us to think about beers that we keep going back to which, as far as we're concerned, is just another way of asking: 'What are your favourite beers?' After all, your favourite album isn't one you listened to once, enjoyed well enough, but then left to gather dust: it's the one that pops up under 'frequently played' on iTunes -- the one you have on CD, deluxe double CD, MP3 and in your Spotify favourites. You could hum it in your sleep.

We've said before, only somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that Westmalle Tripel is the Very Best Beer in the World. We always have some in the house and it's pretty much Boak's default beer. It never seems to diminish in WOW factor -- every time, it amazes us afresh.

Pilsner Urquell is on the list, too, especially now it comes in brown glass in the UK and can be bought for around £1.50 ($2.35) per bottle. We have a fridgeful right now and it's the perfect no-brainer beer -- quietly satisfying, but not demanding of attention.

When it comes to cask-conditioned beer in the pub, there's an obvious answer: St Austell Proper Job. Established in the 19th century, St Austell is our local big brewery here in Cornwall, and Proper Job is a golden, US-accented IPA first brewed in homage to Bridgport's classic take on the style more than a decade ago. Brought down from 5.5% to 4.5% ABV over the years, it was a 'session IPA' before that was a buzz-phrase, and is a beer we can easily drink multiple pints of, several times a week. So that's exactly what we do.

So, there you go: that's what amounts to our top three beers, right now, in the real world. We like trying new things and find plenty to enjoy at the silly end of the market but, if need be, those three would easily do us for the rest of our lives.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Guest Post: Always There

My recent post on the theme of 'Always There' was the precursor to a mini-series of guest posts around the same theme. Today's post is from my good friend, and sometime drinking buddy, Eric, formerly of Relentless Thirst fame. And so with further ado.....

Let me begin by dishing out this well-worn saw: the brewing industry has undergone radical changes in the past ten years. When I first started blogging, I can recall tracking down new and exciting beers from other states that you had to make a special trip just to taste or buy. Since I've stopped blogging, it's hard to go anywhere without seeing beers from all over the country, let alone the world, on the menu at places that aren't even all that beer-centric. There are countless styles to choose from, new breweries to become acquainted with, and a wide range of quality. This should represent the triumph of the consumer, but much like the music industry these days, it's hard to sift through the noise. And much like that favorite album from yesteryear you still queue up on Spotify, there are certain beers that you always return to for their familiarity.

So what's "always there" actually mean? To me, this implies a reliable beverage that can satiate my palate's desires at any given moment; a beer that I don't have to think about to enjoy it, but when I do I appreciate it all the more. I can come up with a handful of beers that fit this motif, but one that sticks out indelibly in my mind is Stiegl Goldbrau. That's right, the pale Austrian lager that comes in pint cans. And let's start with that: cans. Great for transporting a light-sensitive product, as well as portability to places that don't allow glass containers (most useful in the summertime). Furthermore, it's a PINT - my preferred volume for easy-drinking, relatively-low ABV Central European beer.

Though if it were just tall cans of beer I was after, I could choose from thousands. Why this one? Well, for starters, it's inoffensive. I can drink this beer in the sweltering summer heat, or in the dead of winter. But inoffensive doesn't mean it has to taste like nothing (I'm looking at you, Landshark Lager). In this case, I'm talking about appreciating the subtle nuances, being nudged with flavor rather than beaten over the head by it. Goldbrau offers a pleasing, noble hop aroma and a touch, just a touch, of pale malt sweetness that makes it akin to a Munich Helles lager. A clean, drying finish allows you to take another sip and experience it all over again.

I could stop there, but I won't. The last, and most important criterion for me, is that it's consistently well-made. And this is after being transported thousands of miles from Salzburg to the States. Brewing is the intersection of art and science, and too much of either can leave you reaching for something else. But too often I think "craft" beer drinkers prize the unbridled whims of one madcap brewer over the technical prowess of another. It's infuriating to hear some zealots dismiss all lagers, and thus centuries of brewing knowledge and discovery, with the wave of a hand. When I drink this beer, I'm reminded of how light lagers came to be so long ago, and the concentrated efforts that were necessary for them to come to fruition and ultimately fill my glass.

Though I may never become the conservative-minded Teuton, content with drinking the one beer produced by the village brewery that dates back to the 13th century, I do prize a beer that's "always there". Though a beer may seem "simple" or common, I'm surprised at how many breweries miss the mark. If it were so easy, I'd have a difficult time choosing an "always there" beer. But it wasn't hard at all. For me, Stiegl Goldbrau is that beer.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Always There

Sometimes it seems as though every time you turn around there are breweries bringing out new beers, retiring old (or simply unappreciated, whether by brewery or customer) beers, or adding American hops to an extant beer style and calling it a IPA of some level of bastardisation. This constant obsession with the new, whether actually new or not, can leave one's head spinning. Thankfully though, there are some breweries for whom the constant demand for new products holds no sway, for whom having their beer dispensed in a different manner is not something they aspire to, who understand that for the vast majority of beer drinkers the beer that is always there is the one that they will come back to time and again. Yet at times it appears that such beers slide under the radar, ignored, sometimes despised, simply because of their ubiquity.

I have a beer that I come back to time and again for simple drinking pleasure, and really if you don't actually like drinking beer rather than just doing sampling flights then what's the point? It is the classic of its style, consistently good, and one that I can never remember having been disappointed by. People that know me well or have followed Fuggled for a while will know it is Pilsner Urquell.


Whatever the veracity or otherwise of the creation myth that surrounds Pilsner Urquell, the fact remains that when Josef Groll revealed his pale golden lager to the drinkers of Plzeň he changed the beer world forever. Just a few decades later and brewers from across Europe and America were copying, to varying degrees of success, this archetypal Bohemian beer. I'll admit that when I lived in the Czech Republic I drank more Gambrinus that Pilsner Urquell to begin with, and that when I started discovering the many wonderful beers from smaller breweries I drank a lot of their beer too, but the simple pleasure of going to a Prazdroj pub like Bruska or U Pinkas? and drinking several pints of bracingly bitter lager was something to be savoured.


When Mrs V and I upped sticks and moved to the US, the sight of Urquell in a grocery store was a little reminder of that much loved distant land about which we knew plenty and so it became a delight to come home from the shop with a 6 pack and drink it from one of my Czech beer glasses, usually with the wrong branding, but who really cares about that shite anyway? On those rare occasions when it was available on draft, I practically parked myself at the bar. Sure it was pasteurised and filtered, and as such not quite as good as the kvasnicové, or even the tanková, to be had back in Plzeň, but it was a darned sight better than the majority of attempts at Czech pilsner being brewed by small American breweries at the time. Then came the changes.


They didn't change the recipe, the lagering time, the shape of the fermenters or any of that stuff, they changed the shipping procedure. In came 'express cold shipped' Pilsner Urquell and the difference was palpable. Yes it was still filtered and pasteurised, but it was fresher, kept in better conditions through the transport process and as such tasted closer to that I would drink in the Czech Republic. Then they went back to brown bottles and again the beer was more like itself. Then, o miracle of miracles, a Charlottesville pub had unfiltered, unpasteurised Pilsner Urquell on tap (a proper tap no less!), and there it was, Pilsner as Groll intended.


I probably drink a 6 pack or two of Pilsner Urquell every month. I love that beer. I don't care that it is brewed by a 100% owned subsidiary of SABMiller. I don't care that it doesn't use the latest experimental hops from the Pacific Northwest. I don't care that it is a style of beer so roundly disregarded and misunderstood by the ignorati of the craft beer world. I care that it is always good, it's always the same, and it always transports me to another time and place, that city with claws.

Beyond January

Dry January is over, but my beer fast continues. Well, it continues until Friday. As a general rule I only drink at the weekend, thus my win...

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